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Complaints and litigation threats: Billings County Commissioners hold closed meeting

Commissioners recently met in executive session to discuss employee complaints and the subsequent threat of a lawsuit against the county.

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The view of Medora from the Pancratz Trail.
File photo / The Dickinson Press
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MEDORA, N.D. — The Billings County Board of County Commissioners held a meeting that was closed to the public on Dec. 12. The special meeting was convened to, “discuss employee complaints and threatened litigation,” according to the meeting notice posted by Billings County Auditor Marcia Lamb. The notice stated that an executive session would be held for attorney consultation.

Billings County Commission Chairman Lester Iverson said all discussion during the meeting was held in executive session and therefore, not available to the public.

“Nothing came of it,” Iverson said. “Well, I mean, we have actions taken but nothing of a serious matter.”

He noted that the only information about the matter that is available to the public was provided in the meeting notice.

“So, it was employee grievances that were being dealt with that were determined to not be actionable items,” Iverson said.

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Iverson and Billings County State’s Attorney H. Patrick Weir declined to comment on whether the employee or employees were currently employed by Billings County, or whether the matter involved a person or people no longer employed. Officials also would not say whether the matter involved one or multiple employees.

“Sorry, but under North Dakota law, I really can't share anything beyond what the notice of the meeting said,” Weir said. “But it's all protected by a specific statute.”

Weir added that since no action was taken during the closed meeting, there was no information to relay to the public.

“I can't remember what the actual language was, but the upshot of it was that the commission wasn't going to take any action,” Weir said. “They didn't find the grievances actionable. So that's the end of whatever the subject was of the special meeting. So, that's about all that can be said about it.”

The statute cited in the meeting notice is, “North Dakota Century Code 44-04-19.1 Open records and open meetings - Exemptions for attorney work product, attorney consultation, and negotiation preparation.” Attorney consultation is exempt from open meeting laws, according to the statute.

North Dakota Century Code stipulates, “that portion of a meeting of a governing body during which an attorney consultation occurs may be closed by the governing body under section 44-04-19.2” which covers confidential or closed meetings.

According to N.D.C.C., “a governing body may hold an executive session to consider or discuss closed or confidential records.”

Attorney Jack McDonald said litigation must be, “reasonably predictable,” for executive session to be held for attorney consultation, noting that “the threatened litigation is a legitimate reason to hold an executive session, but the question of whether it's a legitimate threat of litigation, sometimes varies.”

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Billings County Commissioner Dean Rodne declined to comment on the matter. Billings County Commissioner Steve Klym did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

Ashley Koffler is a Killdeer, North Dakota native and Dickinson State University graduate, with a Bachelor’s Degree in writing, and minors in journalism and psychology. Formerly working in Community Affairs for Roosevelt Custer Regional Council for Development, her reporting focuses on the Dickinson city government, community features, business and agriculture — among others.
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